In the Alabama Football Nickel defense, the Tide will work with three new starters in its secondary. In Dime, the number of new starters is four. Such a lack of returning experience would severely cripple most teams, but instead, Alabama can have one of the best defensive backfields in college football.
Two reasons for such optimism are Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terron Arnold. Kool-Aid is one of the best cornerbacks in college football. Arnold, who has an abundance of athletic ability, goes into his third season in Tuscaloosa as a redshirt sophomore. Arnold started seven games last season and earned Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-American honors. On a few occasions last season, Arnold struggled. Some Alabama football insiders have thought Louisiana transfer, Trey Amos could beat out Terrion. But Arnold had a great spring.
The most interesting situation is who wins the ‘Star’ role in the Crimson Tide’s base, nickel defense. The Star is one of Nick Saban’s hybrid positions. It is a mixture of 3rd corner and Sam linebacker. Brian Branch played it exceptionally well and in past seasons Minkah Fitzpatrick was an outstanding Star.
Projecting who will settle in at Star, first requires a determination on what pair of Crimson Tide players will be at safety. UAB transfer, Jalen Key has a chance to win one of the safety jobs. A healthy Malachi Moore could be better suited at Safety than at Star. Kristian Story is another exceptional athlete expected to compete for a key role at safety.
Many Crimson Tide fans believe freshman Caleb Downs will start at safety. He has the potential to quickly leap past returning players. If Downs does not start at safety, he has the skill set to also excel at the Star position. Not many Alabama football fans may agree, but it is possible Caleb Downs is a future All-American and NFL first-rounder, but not the Tide’s best option at Star in 2023.
The best option could well be redshirt freshman, Earl Little II. Little may be the roster’s closest player to matching Branch’s skills and toughness, while believed to be faster than Branch. He is certainly faster than Moore and his size and coverage skills make him a good fit to match up with slot receivers and tight ends. The risk with little is a lack of game experience. The position demands quick, correct reads and Little saw action in only three 2022 games. The main reason for such limited work in 2022 is that it was mid-season before he had fully recovered from a summer, shoulder injury.
The redshirt freshman might not be ready for a starting role early, but by midseason, Crimson Tide fans should not be surprised if he has a lock on the Star role.
However the starter battles work out, the Crimson Tide is loaded with talent in the 2023 secondary.